Bill to Force Renegotiation of Pending Trade Agreements in House

Posted June 24, 2009 at 3:42pm

More than 100 House Members introduced a trade reform bill Wednesday that would put the breaks on pending trade agreements and could result in re-opening existing pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Supporters of the legislation said it also sets out a new international trade model that would help protect human rights, the environment and U.S. jobs.

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who has led the charge against several recent free-trade agreements, and 105 other House Members are backing the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act.

It would require that pending agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea be renegotiated to meet the TRADE Act’s requirements.

“This is the opportunity to build a new model for trade,— said Michaud, noting that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is planning to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

Michaud is the chairman of the House Trade Working Group, a position that Brown held when he served in the House. The working group has opposed free-trade agreements, including the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the pending pacts.

“We are looking to stand for something,— Michaud said.

The bill has the support of several progressive organizations, such as Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, environmental groups and all the major unions, including the AFL-CIO and Change to Win.

Business groups and industry lobbyists, however, say the measure would stifle trade and hurt the U.S. economy.

“This is a recipe for disaster,— said Christopher Wenk, trade lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “These guys want to set a course backward on trade, and we want to set a course forward on trade. This is not the course our workers and exporters need right now.—

Andrew Shore, a partner with the trade law and lobbying firm Jochum Shore & Trossevin, which represents retailers and importers, said he also thought the measure was bad policy.

“From what we’ve seen, this piece of legislation is focused on stopping trade, not facilitating trade,— Shore said. “And it is totally counterproductive to the trade debate.—

But Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, said anyone in favor of continuing international trade should get behind the Michaud proposal.

“It lays out, going forward, what a good agreement should look like,— she said. It would correct previous agreements that are “packed with corporate protections— and give trade critics their own pro-active agenda, Wallach said.

The Members who have signed on to the bill include Democrats that hail from the generally pro-trade New Democrats, the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus. It also has the support of GOP Reps. Walter Jones Jr. of North Carolina and Chris Smith of New Jersey.

The bill also has the backing of several subcommittee leaders, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who heads the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration. DeLauro said she is looking at the bill from a food safety perspective and plans to re-examine the Colombia and Panama agreements in the context of food safety.

Absent, though, are Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and the panel’s Subcommittee on Trade chairman, Sander Levin (D-Mich.). Michaud said Levin had asked to see a copy of the bill.

Michaud introduced a nearly identical bill last year with about 75 co-sponsors. That bill did not see any action, but Michaud and his supporters cite the increase in co-sponsors and the new administration and Congress as reasons why this year the bill might meet a different fate.

The TRADE Act would require that all future U.S. agreements include more labor and environmental provisions, and it includes a “sense of the Congress— proposal that calls for a replacement to so-called fast-track authority — which gave the Congress only a yes or no vote on trade agreements — by giving Congress a much bigger say in selecting negotiating partners.

The bill also would require the Government Accountability Office to review existing major trade pacts such as NAFTA and CAFTA. The bill would mandate that the review be completed before Congress consider any new pacts, and it stipulates that older pacts be renegotiated where they don’t meet the new criteria.

President Barack Obama, who campaigned against the NAFTA model of free-trade agreements, has said his administration is going to set out a new plan on free-trade agreements. Michaud said the TRADE Act encapsulates many of the principles that Obama pronounced on the campaign trail and when he met with the House Trade Working Group while he was seeking its members’ endorsements. “Hopefully, he’ll have a chance to look at the TRADE Act,— Michaud said of Obama.